I first met Sophie Stone on the set of the film Retreat. I had answered the call for extras (not being an actor myself) so I took a car load of friends to Brighton to join in the fun.
The first person to greet us when we arrived was Sophie Stone dressed like she’d just escaped from somewhere. Although we had never met before, she welcomed me on location as if we had been friends for years. Huge smile. ‘She likes me!’ I thought to myself.
That was back in February and I now know that she was just pleased to see a new face. She might have even smiled at Colonel Gadaffi if he’d have walked in because she had been virtually locked away with the same cast and crew for four days as part of an ambitious and gruelling filming schedule. The day the extras came was the social highpoint.
In the film, I’m a bald bloke sitting amongst an anxious crowd in a community centre but Sophie was cast in the lead role. She plays a woman called Isobel who is desperate to break free from a secret cult apparently hell-bent on murder. I wondered how she landed the role.
“Apparently, it was written with me in mind.” Sophie says.
“The character, Isobel, kept switching to ‘Sophie’ in the drafting process because Ted (Evans) was visualising me in the role and told me of the slip from ‘casting’ to ‘character’ when he was creating the scenes. I felt flattered.”
“I first met Ted when he came along to a research and development workshop I did with The Fingersmiths Ltd. but we hardly spoke at all and I found him more comfortable behind the camera than be involved with the actors. I thought he was very shy, but I discover a lot of ‘shy’ people to be very intelligent and talented. I had no idea we would create something together just a year or so later.”
Retreat was premièred when Deaffest opened in May and while a big hit with some, others seemed more perplexed. Ted had built a strong reputation with his multi-award winning film The End and on the London Paralympic opening ceremony. Expectations on the night of the première were high.
“I’d much rather be a part of something that caused a reaction than something that people walked away from and forgot about.” Sophie says.
“When Ted came out with The End, which was a strong subject based on the clear fear that sign language and deaf culture could be wiped out in the future, it stayed with a lot of people and some people expected Ted to potentially make more films supporting that style and journey.”
“Retreat was a risk that we wanted to take and explore a completely different journey that allowed a wider audience to be drawn in. Retreat fits into the psychological genre, playing on the idea that sometimes ‘protecting’ something or someone to an extreme can cause more fear than good. That rings true on so many levels for so many different cultures and relationships. Sometimes, that idea will rub people up the wrong way.”
Sophie’s involvement in the arts didn’t just being with working on Retreat. Eight years ago, Sophie became the first deaf person to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (Rada) and has an impressive CV with notable theatre and TV work; but it wasn’t all plain sailing for Sophie. Being severely deaf, how much did her deafness matter?
“I didn’t get into RADA straight away. I’m not going to pretend I was an instant hit. I thought I was doing OK at first but then I hit the age-old ‘Shakespearean wall’ and balls’d it all up.”
“The people at RADA were lovely and told me to get back into the loop of the acting world to brush up on stuff and find confidence because I’d not long had my daughter and was fresh out of school. I spent a year being a ‘luvvie’ and went back with gusto. I wanted it more than ever!”
“Despite being asked to sing in the auditions, they still took a chance on me. It kind of did matter that I was deaf but of course it’s not something you can ignore. It was a real journey of trial and error, a real struggle socially as much as training-wise but I really wanted it and they really wanted it for me so I worked hard and I graduated. I was utterly, utterly, exhausted but exhilarated by what I was ready for.”
Delving deeper into Sophie’s past, it seems that deafness is the reason she fell in love with acting in the first place and her obvious determination is the key to how she turned her raw talent into a career.
“I was introduced to acting when I was very young as a means to communicate when I couldn’t verbally. It gave me a sense of freedom that I understand more and more – the more I learn about it as an art form.”
“As for how much deafness gets in the way in the job; we all find ways to get around obstacles that may seem a whole lot bigger in our heads than in reality. The more we understand about ways to work around these technical obstacles, the more we can offer solutions in the next job or the next audition.”
Sophie will continue to forge her career in acting and retains the passion for her craft that got her through the difficult times at RADA and the perseverance to overcome the challenges that deafness can pose. With that valuable experience in the locker, what would she say to the next generation of aspiring actors and actresses?
“Aspiring is the first step to becoming what you want to be. Honing your craft is the next and then fighting, being broken and building yourself up to be stronger is another level. Making sure you keep ‘it’ alive is really at the core of it all.”
“Read – a lot. Watch. Work. Stretch your perceptions and challenge your understanding of what acting is, desire to create something new whilst learning from the old.”
“Oh, and ignore the little f****r inside that tells you that you can’t.”
By Andy Palmer, The Limping Chicken’s Editor-at-Large.
Andy volunteers for the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society on their website, deaf football coaching and other events as well as working for a hearing loss charity. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP (all views expressed are his own).
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